Syrian army encircles Daesh militants in desert: monitor

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Updated 24 August 2017
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Syrian army encircles Daesh militants in desert: monitor

BEIRUT: Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes completely surrounded fighters of the Daesh group in a vast central desert region on Thursday, a monitoring group said.
Advancing overnight, troops north and south of the Badiya desert area met up and seized Jabal Dahek, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
By encircling them, the government forces dealt a “strategic” blow to the Daesh jihadists, said the Britain-based Observatory.
They have been battling for months to retake the Badiya, which stretches from the country’s center to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders and has been held by Daesh since 2014.
Fighting was still raging between the two sides near Sukhnah, one of the main towns in the desert area.
Victory over Daesh in the region is seen as key to the army’s hopes of retaking Deir Ezzor, the last Syrian province that remains nearly completely under Daesh control.
The jihadists have long surrounded government forces in the province’s capital city, also named Deir Ezzor.
Analysts say the Syrian army needs to completely eliminate Daesh from the central part of the desert before it can attack Deir Ezzor, otherwise its troops would be exposed.
According to Fabrice Balanche, an expert on Syrian geography, the regime would have more than half of the country’s territory under its control if it can drive Daesh out of the Badiya.
More than 330,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar Assad.


Israeli minister says Trump peace plan a ‘waste of time’

Updated 55 min 32 sec ago
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Israeli minister says Trump peace plan a ‘waste of time’

  • “I think that the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians is much too big to be bridged”
  • “I think personally it’s a waste of time”

JERUSALEM: A senior Israeli minister said Wednesday that US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited plan for peace with the Palestinians was “a waste of time.”
“I think that the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians is much too big to be bridged,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said at a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
“I think personally it’s a waste of time,” she said when asked what she thought about the peace initiative Trump is expected to unveil in the weeks or months ahead.
Shaked is part of the far-right Jewish Home party, a key member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.
She and other members of her party openly oppose a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinians have already vowed to block Trump’s peace plan and severed ties with his administration after his December decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and declare the city Israel’s capital.
The Palestinians also see the city as the capital of their future state and international consensus has been that Jerusalem’s status must be negotiated between the two sides.
Trump has also cut some $500 million in aid to the Palestinians, who accuse the White House of seeking to blackmail them into accepting a plan they view as blatantly biased in favor of Israel.
Trump aide Jason Greenblatt said recently in an interview with the Times of Israel news site that the plan would “be heavily focused on Israeli security needs” while remaining “fair to the Palestinians.”
While expressing her pessimism on the chances for making peace with the Palestinians for now, Shaked however said she would keep an open mind on the US plan.
“Although I want peace like anyone else, I’m just more realistic, and I know that in the current future it is impossible,” she said, speaking in English.
“But let’s wait and see what they (the US) will offer.”